By Susan Winslow
Reid Thomas, owner of Reid Thomas Performance Horses in Boerne, Texas, represents the best in the modern horseman. He has successfully combined his strong educational background in business with an innate talent to read and understand horses and the ability to teach and inspire his clients. A multiple champion in his own right, Reid is turning out winners in youth, amateur and select, specializing in all-around events. He lives by his motto, “success is a journey, not a destination,” and the wisdom of that motto is borne in the long list of champions developed through his training program.
In addition to his dedication to his clients and horses, Reid and his partner, Eric Mendrysa, have a passion for the future of our planet. Not content to just worry about animals facing extinction, Eric, owner of EM Designs and a successful amateur competitor, is very dedicated to locating, breeding, and raising endangered species on their farm. Reid says, “I love the exotics, but I give full credit to Eric for finding them.” Together, their efforts are contributing to the salvation of exotic animals ranging from Bongos and antelopes to giraffes, dama gazelles, springboks, three different subspecies of lemurs, and toucans. They’re both men of action whose love of all animals, but particularly horses, can be traced back to the influences of their grandmothers.
Unlike many trainers in the business, Reid doesn’t hail from a horse show family, so a career in the industry seemed far-fetched to the seven-year-old who loved horses and just wanted to ride. He recalls, “I was that kid who had a passion for horses and riding. Although my Mom rode and competed when she was younger, I wasn’t from a horsey family. Early on, I was guided to believe it would be unrealistic to consider making a career in horses. My parents thought, and possibly hoped, it would be a phase, but I loved it. I started working in barns at the age of 14, and my parents supported me to compete in Western Pleasure and futurity classes through my teenage years. Until 2002, I really didn’t believe I could devote my time and attention to making this a full-time career.”
After graduating from high school in Corpus Christi, Texas, Reid followed a traditional path and enrolled at Texas A&M where he earned a business degree with a minor in international law. Returning home after graduating, he was poised for a career in business or law when a heart-to-heart conversation with his grandmother inspired him to rethink his future. He recalls, “I have to credit my grandmother, Charlotte Held, for sitting me down and telling me there are enough lawyers in this world. As long as I followed my passion and worked really hard at whatever I chose to do, I would be a success and I could make it in the horse industry. Right after I graduated, I joke that I was really working three full-time jobs: a horse business, running some franchises, and a real estate business, as well. That talk with my grandmother gave me the confidence I needed to believe that I could make a career in horses. I had the business education and experience, the passion for horses, and a really strong work ethic, so I followed my dream.”
Reid describes his grandmother as an inspiration in his life. “My grandmother was quite a woman. She rode and allowed my Mom and her sisters to ride back in the King Ranch breeding days in Corpus Christi. Incredibly, things have really come full circle. Even though my Mom got out of horses when she went to college, I brought her back into the horse world when I started riding. My parents divorced after 33 years of marriage, and my Mom really returned to horses when she opened a non-profit therapeutic riding program to help children with special needs. Her program, Equine Sharing Program (ESP) at Glenoak Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center in Corpus Christi, helps 150 riders a week. I’m very proud that she’s changing people’s lives. I think we’re doing the same thing in my program, just in a different way, by helping mold young people into responsible horsemen and teaching our riders of all ages that with hard work and dedication they can reach their dreams. My Mom has been very lucky to have many incredible former World and Reserve World Champion horses donated to her program where they’re on a second career! My
Mom and I have a relational bond in our work ethic and our passion for what we do,” he says.
Following his passion, Reid forged his own path, developing a strong business plan, including a code of conduct for both the staff and his clients, a small breeding operation, and dedication to his clients that has become the hallmark of his success. He describes the importance of a strong work ethic. “I’ve never interned or apprenticed in this field, so I knew that, with a degree in business, I was going to have to work twice as hard to make it in this industry. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to build a successful business as a full-time horse trainer working for the amazing people and horses in my program.”
Reid enjoys the challenge of figuring out each horse’s strengths and weaknesses and helping clients find the right horse to help them reach their goals. When describing the qualities of a good show prospect, his compassion for the horse is evident. He says, “It’s really important that the show horse enjoy its job and like what you’re doing with it. The match between a person and their horse is also key. A horse that enjoys its job is going to do well, and that translates into a positive experience for the client. You have to fit the right personality of the rider to the horse, and I really work hard to try to do that. It’s also important to know when to give up and call it, potentially when a horse and rider have outgrown each other. For example, that might be when a rider has a passion for Western Riding and the horse has more talent in a different area. It’s up to the trainer to be a voice for the horse and have the ability to make the right fit so everyone reaches success.”
Reid equates the matching of horse and rider to a chess game, saying, “It’s like moving the pieces to the best advantage. I’m constantly evaluating the horses to ensure they’re happy and performing well and working with my clients to make sure they’re getting the most out of this experience. For example, if a rider has outgrown a horse and is ready for more of a challenge, I will match that horse with a younger or less experienced rider coming along so that horse can help the rider find success, while its original rider can move on to a more appropriate mount. I know the horses so well that if I think a horse would be happier and more successful in a different role, I will discuss those options with the owner or rider to make sure that we help both our horses and riders find success and enjoyment in the sport. For example, consider Zippos Gold N Sonnet. This mare is 19 years old. Even at her age, she thrives on this process and the show pen. I let the horses tell me, and I listen to them.”
Reid laughs when he describes the energy level he brings to his job, “I live and breathe horses 100% of my time; but, I knew when I decided to pursue this career path, that I was going to have to be all in. I want to be a role model for my clients, to show them the value of hard work and dedication, plus I love what I do.” Reid works one-on-one with each client to develop a tailor-made program based on their skill level and goals. He describes two tiers in his program, which enable riders of all backgrounds and skill level to experience the thrill of the show pen. He says, “Each year, my clients and I meet to discuss their goals. I want to know what fills the tank for each customer. Then, we formulate a plan and execute it to give them what they need. We continually evaluate the progress to make sure each rider is getting what he or she needs to succeed.” Riders, who are new to the sport, and those who wish to compete on a local or regional level are given the opportunity to attend multiple shows throughout the season. More advanced competitors, who wish to compete on the national stage, are also supported in every aspect of their goals. Reid says, “We have a wide variety of options for anyone who is interested in getting into this sport. I make sure our clients are supported every step of the way. If someone has the drive and desire, just give me the goals, and I’ll work in any capacity to find a way to help them.”
Reid’s passion for teaching trickles out beyond the show pen. He has been a mentor to many children through the years, leading by example and teaching his students to be kind, compassionate, to always have integrity and lead an authentic life. He’s giving, hardworking, and considered by many to be the truest of friends. Brittany Boyd is a long-time client who has high praise for her coach. She says, “I’ve been riding with Reid for 26 years. For most of that time, I’ve competed in all-around classes. Reid has been my mentor in so many areas of my life. I believe he’s a great example of a true professional horseman. He has a special talent for matching riders and horses. He’s always finding new training techniques and ways to teach riders to be their best and find their personal style.”
Barbara Gonzalez is another member of the Reid Thomas Performance Hor-ses team who credits Reid for helping her achieve her dreams. With his help, she has been able to take up riding and showing in her fifties after cheering her daughters on at the rail for years. She’s now competing successfully with her horse, Krymsun Kryptonite. She says, “With Reid’s planning, guidance, and never-ending patience, I was able to nationally qualify for and attend my first Select World! I’m going to the AzQHA Fall Championship in Scottsdale and will be showing at Congress for the first time in L1 Select and Select classes. Reid is a special person, and I feel very lucky to be his client and part of his barn! He has done so much for me. I admire him for his work ethic and how much he cares for his horses. I could never show with anybody who didn’t treat horses well. I always feel prepared for my classes and supported at the shows—especially the ups and downs of competition, which I feel are as difficult as the actual physical portion.”
While this dedicated horseman works hard to ensure a positive experience for each client, he’s also cognizant of the toll a busy show season takes on his horses. He explains, “I run the road hard in show season, but these horses are all like family to me. I thrive on the thrill of finding a horse that makes a great show mount. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most talented horse, but it’s the horse with a big heart and a lot of try. I love finding those horses and bringing them along. I don’t think it’s a quality that you can put into words, because it’s more of a feeling. But, when you find a horse like that, it makes this really fun. Our team makes sure these horses have what they need to stay happy and healthy, both on the road and at home.”
When they’re between shows, the horses at Reid Thomas Performance Horses call the foothills of the Texas Hill Country home in Boerne, Texas. Horses graze in open pastures and paddocks, and the 32-stall barn is spacious and airy, while the covered arena allows comfortable riding year-round. The horses share their home with an array of exotic animals. Reid says, “Six years ago, Eric and I purchased our first giraffe. From that moment on, the rest is history with our exotic animal endeavors. The main focus of raising and breeding exotics came from Eric’s huge passion for all animals. We really tried to think, if we were going to do something, what could we do to make a difference – one animal at a time. One of our mentors in the endangered species business coached us early on that, if you’re going to do it, pick certain critically endangered animals and focus on that group. That’s where we got the idea.”
Reid and Eric ensure that each exotic species live in a habitat as similar to their natural surroundings as possible. Many of these species have faced possible extinction, due to habitat destruction and overhunting. While he wants people to develop a connection with these magnificent creatures to understand the importance of saving a species, Reid stresses the fact that exotics are not pets. He says, “While the exotics are a lot of fun, and some of these animals like the giraffes are quite gentle, we respect the fact that these are wild animals. We’ve had to really focus on strong fencing and heated barns for many of the exotics. Our end goal is to educate people and help make a difference in the future of these animals with a controlled breeding program.”
With a non-stop show season, a thriving sales program that includes 25 horses sold this year, a small breeding program, and a busy lesson program, Reid isn’t ready to rest on his laurels. He travels to Australia every year to conduct clinics, and he has recruited three Aussies to the states to intern in his program. He says, “I love Australia, and I’ve been so fortunate to have seen so much of that country. They’re always very welcoming, and they have a real hunger to learn. Their work ethic is incredible, and we even have a couple of customers from Australia who now show with us in the US.”
Looking ahead, he’s also planning something quite novel for him- downtime. “In the coming years, I’m committing to taking some vacation time and making a real effort to find the best balance of showing, life, and raising hoof stock. I really do feel fortunate that I’m able to get up each day and do something that I’m passionate about. I’m grateful for the support of my parents, friends, and the dedication of my clients over the years. I take a lot of pride in watching my clients and horses progress and reach their goals.”